It’s funny what becomes the new normal in life and even in the sports world. If you would have told me two weeks ago that the Steelers would start out 0-2, lose quarterback Ben Roethlisberger for the rest of the season, and then trade a future top pick away for the first time since 1967 in-order to acquire someone who wasn’t a veteran quarterback, I would have laughed in your face.
But here we are. This is the new normal. While the Steelers are still trying to remain relevant in 2019 by acquiring Minkah Fitzpatrick in-order to improve their secondary, the rest of the football world is assuming they will wither away to double-digit losers.
Whatever belief there was in the Steelers as championship contenders has been reduced to a pipe-dream. No Big Ben. No Antonio Brown. No Le’Veon Bell. No chance.
But it’s the Big Ben part that really stings because he’s been the one constant over the past 15 years—all of which had made room for the Steelers as serious contenders.
“Just as long as they got Ben, anything’s possible,” was always the mantra, regardless of who was catching his passes, taking his hand-offs, protecting him from those angry pass-rushers and even playing defense on behalf of the Steelers.
But it’s a whole new world now, at least is it for me, a 47-year old man who hasn’t had to worry about this kind of thing since the waning years of Chuck Noll’s coaching career.
That’s right, the Steelers have been contenders for so long, I almost can’t come to terms with this feeling of no expectations. Even in the late-90s, when it was pretty clear the Steelers weren’t going to contend, those expectations were still there. Maybe those expectations were always a little inflated in the pre-Roethlisberger days because the Steelers were so consistently good, regardless of who their quarterback was. The rosters were always just so talented, it kind of masked the deficiencies of a Neil O’Donnell, Mike Tomczak, Kordell Stewart or Tommy Maddox. You expected those teams to get so far, and that’s what they always did—they got just so far.
Then, Roethlisberger came along, and you could tell right away he was something special. Was it a mirage? No, because he helped take the Steelers all the way to a Super Bowl title in just his second season.
You knew he was the real deal, and he never proved to be a counterfeit artifact throughout his legendary career, one that we can only hope will continue beyond 2019.
We do know it won’t continue right now.
It might seem weird that I expected the Steelers to win Super Bowls with people like O’Donnell and Maddox, but, hey, I just didn’t know any better...until I did.
If O’Donnell was Ramen noodles (and they can be good when you’re really hungry), Roethlisberger was without a doubt the very best filet mignon.
There’s a huge difference between 99 cent noodles and the most expensive piece of beef.
What is Mason Rudolph, the quarterback who will be the first to try and replace Roethlisberger’s greatness, on the nutritional pyramid?
Nobody really knows right now. As the Steelers prepare to take on the 49ers this week, I normally would get a picture in my head of how Roethlisberger’s performance might go.
And why wouldn’t I be able to picture it? I’ve had a steady diet of Roethlisberger’s greatness, uniqueness and even his drawbacks for the past 15 years.
I know what Big Ben can do. I know what he struggles with. I know what he likes to do when he’s in trouble.
I’ve often marveled at his ability to make something out of nothing. Like, for example, that thing he often does when he’s about to be swallowed up by multiple pass-rushers and is somehow able to flick the ball with his left hand to a running back standing about three yards away.
Scrambling to one side or the other and then throwing to a receiver standing in the middle of the field? That’s a no-no. But not when Big Ben does it—he’s made a career out of that no-no.
And what about that thing he does where he gets hit hard from behind but hardly ever fumbles?
What about Roethlisberger’s quirks, like his inability to not hold onto the football too long? When it’s a blessing? Wow! When it’s a curse? Yikes! What about that thing where he seems to be allergic to checking down to his outlet receiver coming out of the backfield? Sometimes, it leads to greatness. Sometimes, it leads to an interception.
When I play pickup football with the little kids, and I decide to pitch it to the two-year old who’s standing right next to me and not even aware she's in the game, the slightly bigger kids get angry with me. To that, I say, “She’s my outlet receiver. She’s my safety-valve. You want me to throw it into triple-coverage like Ben? I’m all cerebral ‘n at!”
Yes, I make fun of Big Ben’s play on the field. I also make fun of the way he embellishes injuries (or, at least I did before the Seahawks game). I also mock him for his passive-aggressive ways (“Hey, you’ll have to ask Coach Todd why I didn’t run a sneak there.”). Come on, Big Ben. You can buy and sell Coach Todd, so cut the crap!
I know nothing of Rudolph’s ways. How does he handle adversity? How does he shake off a slow start? Can he complete just five of 22 passes for 72 yards and three interceptions over the first three quarters of a game, before suddenly catching fire in the fourth quarter?
How does he handle tricky questions from reporters? Will he own the State of Ohio like Big Ben has during his career? Will there be a Home Mason vs. a Road Mason?
I don’t know any of this stuff. I just know I’m not expecting the Steelers to do anything special right now. In-fact, I’m not expecting them to do anything but go out and play the 49ers this Sunday at 4:25. How will they do? Beats me. What are my new expectations for the game? I can’t really say because I honestly don’t have any. I just want to watch some football this Sunday. Beyond that, I don’t really know what I want.
Life without a franchise quarterback is a little weird.